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Tellurium

Generally mined as a by-product of copper and lead production, tellurium is used in low-cost cadmium telluride thin-film solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules. Despite having a crustal abundance higher than gold, only 150 tonnes of tellurium are produced annually versus around 2,500 tonnes of gold. Because tellurium is recovered as a by-product of copper production, the volume of tellurium produced is directly proportional to annual copper (and lead) production. In other words, pending technological advances, doubling global tellurium production will necessitate doubling global copper production, which is unrealistic given that over 16 million tonnes of copper are produced annually. Future tellurium supply increases hinge largely on the recycling industry, as well as process and technological advances that improve tellurium recoveries across the value chain of mining, beneficiation, concentration, and separation. Tellurium faces a significant long-term risk of being substituted in its key applications, however, at present it is irreplaceable in solar PV applications, highlighting opportunities for recyclers looking to engage.

Current market trends and challenges:
 

    Recovered as by-product of copper and lead mining

    Used in cadmium telluride thin-film solar PV cells

    Low-cost and irreplaceable in solar PV applications     Supply inadequate for widespread adoption of solar power

    Process improvements and recycling key to greater supply

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